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Weaving Paper Towels — Part One

July 8th, 2021
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Tom Knisley, noted weaver, wrote an article for the March/April 2021 issue of Handwoven magazine, describing his experience weaving with paper.

I’m unconvinced that this makes any sense at all — for one thing, it’s expensive! — but, like Tom, once I knew the project existed, I had to try it. How could I not want to weave paper towels?

Much of what Tom wrote was pretty vague, but I dutifully ordered the paper “fibre” (it’s actually called Shosenshi) from Habu Textiles, bought the same weight cotton fibre Tom used — 8/2 — and then set about preparing to warp. Shosenshi is made from linen paper, which gives it an interesting raffia-like texture, much more like paper than cloth threads.

Tom used a sett of 20 for his towels, so I took out my Kromski 10 dent heddle, and set (heh) to work. I marked the center of the heddle with a red thread, and then arbitrarily decided that I’d weave my towels with a 19 inch width, partly because I had no idea at all what kind of shrinkage to expect.

A not-entirely delightful surprise was learning
that this particular green, very thin, warp disappears
into my hardwood floor. Hmm.

I placed a green thread at the starting slot on the right side of the heddle (not showing above, sorry!), and another one at the end slot on the left side, marking 9.5 inches on either side of the center of the heddle. This is a neat trick that ensures that I’m not constantly counting slots when I’m warping. Peace of mind, and no fuss — it’s worth a lot, especially when warping! (Which is not to say that doing this initial counting didn’t drive me mad. I considered calling this post “the crying of slot 49” — that was the end slot — but some wiser sense prevailed.)

Once the heddle was ready it occurred to me that I had naturally assumed that Tom was using a rigid heddle loom. Why? Uh, because I’m rigid heddle, all the time, of course! (It doesn’t pay to be parochial in one’s thinking — I’ve made a note.) Tom weaves on floor looms! Would this [presumably] simple plain weave project translate directly to my rigid heddle? Who knew? But, since it seemed as least possible, I decided to jump in.

Tom made a three yard (2.7 meter) warp, but didn’t specify the width of the towels he wove. I decided to go, more or less, with that warp length (mine was actually 108 inches or 274 cm), guessing that, since I’d purchased two skeins of Shosenshi, I’d probably have enough to finish, even if my towels were a fair bit wider.

The swift, but not the paper fibre; I forgot to take
a photo when using it with the Shosenshi.

As Tom noted that he had trouble keeping the paper fibre balls intact once he’d rolled them off the skein, I used my collapsible swift to load the shuttles directly. This worked amazingly well, and the paper fibre was actually much easier to handle than yarns are. I treated it gently, though it seemed to have a surprising tensile strength. Better safe than sorry!

Then it was time to weave! But that’s for another post . . .

Link to Handwoven Magazine.

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